The Magicians tells the story of Quentin Coldwater, an extremely intelligent and deeply unhappy highschool student from Brooklyn. He is enarmoured with the Fillory books (which are basically The Magicians equivalent to the Narnia books) and compares his life to its fantastic world, spending his time waiting for his life to actually begin. When he finds his college interviewer dead, a new, magical, world is opened to Quentin: He studies magic at Brakebills. Magic, however, isn´t all that he expects it to be and soon Quentin graduates and returns to the real world, until a magic button is found and Fillory might finally happen after all.
Grossman´s novel is foremost about Quentin´s inability to seize the moment, to enjoy his life. He is always waiting for something to happen and when it does is quickly disappointed because it does not solve his problems. Quentin is not a very likeable character and at times he exasperated me, but I did not have trouble following his story because of it. I did enjoy reading The Magicians, it just had too many expectations to live up to. The beginning of the story moves quickly and soon Quentin has become a Brakebills student. The magic is not the source of wonder as it is in many other works (Harry Potter to name only one) but just another subject to be studied. A couple of mysterious magical things happen but mostly Brakebills is just another college and Quentin has the usual experiences associated with it. Then all of a sudden he´s done with it and graduated. This caught me a bit by surprise, I was -like Quentin- waiting for something to happen. Something does happen after Brakebills, but when it does it sems like hard work, there is no feeling of wonderment. Things get darker and dangerous and then this too ends.
The important thing to understand when it comes to The Magicians is that this is not a story about magic; it is a story about an unhappy young man. While being very intelligent and studious Quentin is surprisingly lazy and disenchanted when it comes to his life. The story, though told from the third person, reads like his outlook on life. This is what makes the novel an interesting book, certainly an unusual one (or perhaps too usual) but one shouldn´t expect the fascination and wonder that entering other fantasy worlds brings. Reading The Magicians means adopting Quentin´s outlook, seeing everything through dark shades.
So what did I think of it? I did not dislike Grossman´s work, and once I realized it wouldn´t be all magic and adventure, I quite enjoyed it. Grossman works the strings of plot well, it all comes together in the end. I felt it was a bit slow in the middle (although that´s a typical point of critique with me, many books are about 50 pages too long) but the writing style made up for it.
Now, I´ve read a lot of one-liners and blurbs about this book and of course they give a completely wrong impression. This was supposed to be Harry Potter for adults (whatever that means), and maybe it is but the importance of magic is completely overdrawn. I´ve read about nods to The Secret History, don´t expect this, the clique dynamics are nowhere near as twisted as Donna Tartt´s. This is just a story about Quentin, the rest is just decoration that emphasizes his problems.